Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Father’s Day is coming up, and while I believe that every day is an opportunity to celebrate the father figures in our lives, some days stand out more than others. My family recently celebrated my dad with his favorite Jew-“ish” ritual: a baseball game.
It would be an underestimate to say that my dad loves sports, especially baseball: the crowd, the vendors, the excitement of a home run, the common disappointment in a double play. During the summer months, you can almost guarantee that you will find my dad near Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. He loves sharing the experience of a ballpark with my brother and me. Dinner time conversation always includes a rankings update and a low-stakes bet on who would win the Sausage Race. I bet on Chorizo every time.
For most of my life I thought it was just his passion, but then I began to see that baseball and Judaism (both of which he loves) are pretty interconnected. Maybe it’s the community gathering, or perhaps it’s the way that it is intertwined with Jewish American history. When I did a little digging into the topic, I found one article that even calls baseball “America’s Religion.” For Jews, there have been historical moments marked by baseball players navigating the game and their identity, like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.
Baseball is deeply intertwined with my own religious upbringing. Growing up, our rabbi’s sermons often related the parsha to the ups and downs of the baseball season. A few times, my dad would declare an unexpected Sunday morning appointment, pulling my brother and me from religious school a half hour early to get to the ballpark before the first pitch was thrown. In these moments, I learned that Jewish values are more than something we learn; they’re something to be enacted. My father, an important Jewish figure in my life, shared his love for sports with the next generation, and I, in turn, fulfilled the mitzvah of honoring my father by spending those joyous times at the park with him. I loved these unexpected surprises. Even today, I sometimes wish he could call me out of work to go catch a game!
Throughout the years, my dad and brother have made it a goal to visit every major league stadium. Until recently, one of the few they had left was the Houston Astros’ stadium. So, for his 60th birthday, we all met in Houston – my brother’s fiance and I were even invited to join! While my brother and dad took lead on the logistics of getting to the game, I was enlisted to fill the rest of the weekend. As the Southern transplant, I found the interesting sights in Houston as well as a sampling of the local cuisine. We loved eating at Houston’s Jewish culinary landmark, Kenny and Ziggy’s Deli. Baseball, Southern hospitality, Jewish food, family – what could be better?
Celebrating fathers can be as simple and as fun as a baseball game, a new experience in the South doing something he loves with the children he loves. This year I cannot be with my dad on Father’s Day, but I will certainly be sending him a baseball from this special trip. This way, we have a reminder of our shared love of baseball for years to come.